Contra Costa Times

Wednesday, October 7, 1998

Berkeley Trustees Deliberate Use of 227
School board weighing late Wednesday whether to allow teaching in languages other than English in some classes, bucking state law.
By TONY MERCADO, Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY -- Threatened with the loss of $3 million in state funds unless it starts teaching students only in English, the Berkeley school board was debating late Wednesday whether to implement Proposition 227 in all its schools.

Passed by voters in June, the proposition requires that all of California's public school students be taught only in English. But the Berkeley, Hayward and Oakland school districts are bucking the law, insisting that students benefit most by being taught in both English and their native language. The districts are challenging Prop. 227 in court and, in the meantime, some of their teachers are continuing to conduct classes in two languages and to offer bilingual tutoring.

The state Board of Education has vowed to withdraw funding from the three school districts for their failure to comply with Prop. 227, and could take action today or Friday, at its regular monthly meeting.

To protect those funds, Berkeley Superintendent Jack McLaughlin said before the meeting that he expected the school board to agree Wednesday night to follow the law.

However, even if the board implements the law, Prop. 227 provides a loophole. After limited-English students attend regular classes for 30 days, their parents can seek state-approved waivers to move their children into bilingual classes.

Oakland already promised the state it would implement the bilingual law and trustees for the Hayward district also met Wednesday to discuss it.

The discussion, which was being treated as a legal matter, was to be in closed session, and no announcement was expected Wednesday night, district officials said.

Berkeley school officials say the state used funding as leverage to intimidate them into implementing the proposition.

If the districts fail to implement Prop. 227, the state has threatened to cut funding for programs for low-income children and strengthening curriculum, as well as the program for students with limited English skills.

"We don't know whether they have the legal right to do this, but there's not enough time to challenge it prior to getting the assurances in," McLaughlin said.

If approved by the board, the Berkeley school district will begin implementing the measure for all new students who enter the district after today.

Unlike students already in the district, new students with limited English skills will not receive extra tutoring or help in their native language outside the classroom. For their first 30 days in the district, new students will be taught solely in English before their parents can request a waiver to put them into a bilingual class.

Berkeley's efforts would be too little, too late, according to those who supported the passage of the controversial proposition.

Sherrie Annis, spokeswoman for English for the Children, said the pro-227 group would keep a close watch on Berkeley. She said other districts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Mountain View and Gilroy have promised to comply with Prop. 227 but are not living up to their word in the classroom.

"The fact they haven't implemented it until they've been pressured is a sign they're reluctant," she said. "I hope it's not simply words, but also actions. Anything less would be a great disservice to the students in the district."

The organization has been encouraging parents of children with limited English skills to contact them if their schools are not following the law.

A decision by the board to implement Prop. 227 would not affect the status of a lawsuit filed against the state by the Berkeley, Hayward and Oakland districts. The state is appealing a judge's decision that it hear the districts requests for an exemption to the new law.

The districts sued the state in July to force it to consider their requests. The state had contended that it did not have the legal right to grant exemptions and would not hear the requests.

Last month, however, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry Needham ruled in favor of the districts, dealing the first legal blow to the measure. The state is appealing the decision, which could be heard within the month.